Gardner, G(erald) B(rosseau) (1884–1964)
Pioneer of the modern witchcraft revival. Gardner was born
at Blundell Sands near Liverpool, England, June 13, 1884. Beginning
at age 16, he spent much of his life in the East, as a tea
planter in Ceylon (1900–19), a rubber planter in Borneo and
Malaya (1923), and a customs official in Malaya (1936). In the
East he took the opportunity to study magic practices and even
became an expert on the kris, a Malay ceremonial dagger,
about which he wrote a definitive text. In Ceylon he also became
a Mason.
On his retirement from Malaya, Gardner and his wife settled
in New Forest in Hampshire, England, where he associated
with members of a theosophical group, the Crotona Fellowship
of Rosicrucians. One of the members supposedly had belonged
to a secret witch coven and introduced Gardner to
witchcraft. In fact, it appears that Gardner set out to construct
a new popular occult religion, drawing upon all the things he
had learned in the East. Elements of this new religion were first
published in 1949 in a novel, High Magic’s Aid, issued under a
pseudonym, Scire. Then in 1951 the last of the archaic antiwitchcraft
laws (which had in this century been used primarily
to attack Spiritualists) were removed from British law. Three
years later Gardner completed his most important book, Witchcraft
Today. By this time he had created a working coven, but
he presented his new religion as the faith of an old witchcraft
group that was dying out. The book was a means of contacting
people who wanted to be members of the witchcraft faith. It was
followed by Meaning of Witchcraft (1959).
Throughout the 1950s the practice of witchcraft spread in
England. Gardner opened a witchcraft museum on the Isle of
Man and made himself available to the press and to prospective
new witches. In 1962, shortly before Gardner’s death, the
Americans Rosemary and Raymond Bucklad traveled to his
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home and were initiated as priestess and priest and returned
to found the Gardnerian movement in the United States. Gardner
died at sea on February 12, 1964. After his death the contents
of the museum were sold to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and
were subsequently disbursed to various Ripley’s museums and
sold to private collectors.
Gardner’s form of witchcraft was based on a polytheism centered
on the Great Mother Goddess and her consort, the
Horned God. In the coven, the basic organizational and worshiping
group of the movement, the two deities are symbolized
by the priestess and priest. The priestess has clear dominance,
and the lineage of authority is passed through her. The ritual
is in three degrees, Gardner having assembled ritual elements
from a variety of sources. Much of the third degree is taken
from the writings of Aleister Crowley.
As Gardner’s movement spread, a number of variations developed,
first by former members Alexander Sanders and
Sybil Leek, and in the United States by various self-described
‘‘traditionalists.’’ In North America upward of fifty thousand
people have been attracted to the Gardnerian or Neopagan
Wiccan movement.
Sources
Bracelin, L. L. Gerald Gardner Witch. London Octagon
Press, 1960.
Gardner, Gerald. A Goddess Arrives. London A. W. Stockwell,
1948.
———. Meaning of Witchcraft. London Aquarian Press,
1959.
———. Witchcraft Today. London Jerrolds, 1954.
Kelly, Aidan A. Crafting the Art of Magic A History of Modern
Witchcraft, 1939–1964. St. Paul, Minn. Llewellyn Publications,
1991.
Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London Robert
Hale, 1989.